OPINION & ORDER
VALERIE CAPRONI, District Judge:
New York City routinely seizes, without a warrant, automobiles that are suspected of being unlawfully operated for hire in order to ensure that the vehicle owner pays any fine that may subsequently be imposed. Plaintiffs, whose vehicles were seized, assert that the City's actions violated their Fourth Amendment right to be secure from unreasonable seizures and their Fourteenth Amendment right not to be deprived of property without due process of law. The Court agrees that the City's procedure of seizing vehicles that are suspected of being used for hire without proper licensing is unconstitutional under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments as it applies to vehicle owners with no prior violations in the preceding 36 months. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment on liability as to New York City is GRANTED.
Between September 2013 and July 2014, a vehicle belonging to each of the plaintiffs was seized because a Taxi and Limousine Commission ("TLC") inspector had probable cause to believe the vehicle was being operated as an unlicensed vehicle for hire in violation of N.Y. City Administrative Code § 19-506(b)(1).
The City Council enacted § 19-506(h)(1) in 1990 based on a finding that seizure of vehicles was necessary to "compel compliance" with § 19-506(b)(1) because the "overwhelming majority of summonses" had "resulted in unsatisfied default judgments," making "more stringent enforcement mechanisms" necessary. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 19-506 Note L.L. 90/1989 § 1.
In 2012, the City Council increased penalties
Plaintiffs brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City and three individual defendants, in their official and individual capacities: Meera Joshi and David Yassky, the current and former chairmen of the TLC, Am. Compl. ¶¶ 16 and 17, and Raymond Scanlon, deputy commissioner of the TLC with supervisory authority over enforcement, id. ¶ 18.
Plaintiffs challenge § 19-506(h)(1) pursuant to the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and Article I, Section 12 of the New York State Constitution.
Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment on liability only as to their claims that N.Y. City Administrative Code § 19-506(h)(1), the City's codified policy of seizing vehicles suspected of violating § 19-506(b)(1) without a warrant or pre-deprivation hearing, violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and Article I, Section 12 of the New York Constitution. Pl. Mem. at 1. The City cross-moved for summary judgment, arguing that a warrant is not required to seize vehicles in public places based on probable cause to believe a § 19-506(b)(1) violation has occurred, or, alternatively, that the seizures fall within an exception to the warrant requirement.
At the outset, it is useful to address what this case is not about. The relevant probable cause in § 19-506(h)(1) is not probable cause to believe that the vehicle to be seized is subject to civil forfeiture in conjunction with its driver's arrest, and the cars are not retained by the government pending forfeiture proceedings. Cf., generally, Krimstock v. Kelly, 306 F.3d 40 (2d Cir.2002) (Sotomayor, J.), cert. denied, 539 U.S. 969, 123 S.Ct. 2640, 156 L.Ed.2d 675 (2003) (setting forth minimal process that is due when the City seizes forfeitable vehicles operated by drivers who are arrested for driving while intoxicated and wishes to maintain possession of the vehicles pending the outcome of the criminal proceedings, establishing what has come to be known as a "Krimstock hearing," see Ford Motor Credit Co. v. NYC Police Dep't, 503 F.3d 186, 188 (2d Cir.2007)). Nor does this case involve the seizure of a vehicle based upon probable cause to believe
The statute's legislative purpose, structure, and the TLC's enforcement policies make clear the obvious: New York City summarily seizes private property, prior to any adjudication of liability, to ensure that those who are guilty will pay the fine that may later be imposed.
A. Seizures Pursuant to § 19-506(h)(1) of Vehicles That Cannot Be Forfeited Violate the Fourth Amendment
The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution provides:
It is settled law that "[a] `seizure' of property occurs when there is some meaningful interference with an individual's possessory interest in that property." United States v. Jacobsen, 466 U.S. 109, 113, 104 S.Ct. 1652, 80 L.Ed.2d 85 (1984). The "general rule" is that "absent an `extraordinary situation' a party cannot invoke the power of the state to seize a person's property without a prior judicial determination that the seizure is justified." United States v. Eight Thousand Eight Hundred & Fifty Dollars ($8,850) in U.S. Currency, 461 U.S. 555, 562 n. 12, 103 S.Ct. 2005, 76 L.Ed.2d 143 (1983). "It is familiar history that indiscriminate searches and seizures conducted under the authority of `general warrants' were the immediate evils that motivated the framing and adoption of the Fourth Amendment." Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573, 583, 100 S.Ct. 1371, 63 L.Ed.2d 639 (1980). "[I]n the `ordinary case,' seizures of personal property are `unreasonable within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment,' without more, `unless ... accomplished pursuant to a judicial warrant,' issued by a neutral magistrate after a finding of probable cause." Illinois v. McArthur, 531 U.S. 326, 330, 121 S.Ct. 946, 148 L.Ed.2d 838 (2001) (quoting United States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 701, 103 S.Ct. 2637, 77 L.Ed.2d 110 (1983)).
The "ultimate standard" of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness; whether a particular seizure violates the Fourth Amendment therefore typically depends on an analysis that reflects a "careful balancing of governmental and private interests." Soldal v. Cook Cnty., Ill., 506 U.S. 56, 71, 113 S.Ct. 538, 121 L.Ed.2d 450 (1992) (citations omitted). There are recognized exceptions under which warrantless seizures will be considered "reasonable." See McArthur, 531 U.S. at 330, 121 S.Ct. 946
The City argues that seizures pursuant to § 19-506(b)(1) do not violate the Fourth Amendment because they are reasonable and fall within an exception to the warrant requirement.
The fact that the vehicles are seized in public is of no moment. "[S]eizures of property are subject to Fourth Amendment scrutiny even though no search within the meaning of the Amendment has taken place." Soldal, 506 U.S. at 68, 113 S.Ct. 538. "[T]he absence of a privacy interest notwithstanding, `[a] seizure of the article ... would obviously invade the owner's possessory interest.'" Id. at 66, 113 S.Ct. 538 (quoting Horton v. California, 496 U.S. 128, 134, 110 S.Ct. 2301, 110 L.Ed.2d 112 (1990) (first alteration added)); see also id. at 68, 113 S.Ct. 538 ("[A]n officer who happens to come across an individual's property in a public area could seize it only if Fourth Amendment standards are satisfied — for example,
While it is true that contraband and instrumentalities of crime are generally subject to warrantless seizure, that justification for these seizures simply does not fly. First, the vehicles are not contraband. See von Hofe v. United States, 492 F.3d 175, 184 (2d Cir.2007) ("Pure contraband — child pornography, counterfeit currency, and unregistered hand grenades, for instance — are objects, `the possession of which, without more, constitutes a crime.'" (quoting One 1958 Plymouth Sedan v. Pennsylvania, 380 U.S. 693, 699, 85 S.Ct. 1246, 14 L.Ed.2d 170 (1965))). When contraband is encountered by law enforcement, it is seized, and it is not returned to the owner — precisely because it is contraband. Straight tag for-hire vehicles are simply not contraband. See One 1958 Plymouth Sedan, 380 U.S. at 699, 85 S.Ct. 1246 (unlike narcotics, "[t]here is nothing even remotely criminal in possessing an automobile. It is only the alleged use to which th[e] particular automobile was put that subject[ed] [the owner] to its possible loss.").
Nor are the vehicles instrumentalities of crime as that term has been used by the Supreme Court and Second Circuit. The City has cited no case and the Court has found none in which the Supreme Court has dispensed with the warrant requirement to allow law enforcement to seize property as an "instrumentality of crime" in connection with a violation that it never intends to criminally prosecute. See von Hofe, 492 F.3d at 185 (noting that, when it comes to forfeiture of instrumentalities or tools used in the commission of a criminal offense, "only after criminal conviction may an in personam forfeiture occur").
More important, the express purpose for the City's seizures pursuant to § 19-506(h)(1) is not to relieve wrong-doers of the instrumentalities of wrongdoing (after all, the vehicles are returned as soon as an alleged wrongdoer posts a bond or pays a penalty). The purpose of the statute is to ensure that vehicle owners pay their fines because the City Council believed that too many summonses were resulting in unsatisfied default judgments. In short, the City's effort to fit this procedure into the precedent that permits the seizure of vehicles that are contraband or instrumentalities of crime is an effort to fit a very square peg into a very round hole.
The City argues that the seizures are nonetheless reasonable because § 19-506(h)(1) only permits seizures based on "probable cause." It is true that seizures without a warrant can be reasonable if law enforcement has probable cause to believe that the property is contraband, evidence of a crime, or otherwise subject to forfeiture. See Florida v. White, 526 U.S. 559, 565, 119 S.Ct. 1555, 143 L.Ed.2d 748 (1999); United States v. Gaskin, 364 F.3d 438, 458 (2d Cir.2004) ("law enforcement officers may seize forfeitable vehicles from public places without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that the vehicle is, in fact, subject to forfeiture" (citing White, 526 U.S. at 561, 119 S.Ct. 1555)). But even in such cases, warrantless
"Probable cause" is not a talismanic phrase that can be waved like a wand to justify the seizure of any property without a warrant. When property is seized because there is probable cause to believe that it is contraband or otherwise forfeitable, seizure is the first step in a process to terminate a possessory interest in the property seized — the seizing officer has probable cause to believe that the right abridged (ownership of the property) is a right that no longer exists. See Krimstock, 306 F.3d at 49-51. When property is seized as evidence or instrumentality of a crime, there is probable cause to believe that, until the termination of criminal proceedings, the government has an interest in the property that is superior to the owner's interest. Caplin & Drysdale, Chartered v. United States, 491 U.S. 617, 627-28, 109 S.Ct. 2646, 105 L.Ed.2d 528 (1989); Butler v. Castro, 896 F.2d 698, 700-03 (2d Cir.1990) (it is unconstitutional to place the burden on arrestees to initiate proceedings to recover "non-contraband items not needed as evidence" from the NYPD (citing McClendon v. Rosetti, 460 F.2d 111 (2d Cir.1972))). The "probable cause" in § 19-506(h)(1), however, bears no nexus to the right that the seizure abridges. Because the statute does not authorize forfeiture of first-time violators' vehicles and by policy forfeiture is not sought even with second- and third-time violators, probable cause to believe that the statute has been violated means only that there is probable cause to believe that the owner may be liable for a fine. It does not mean that there is probable cause to believe that the City has — even temporarily — a superior claim to the vehicle than its owner.
The City next asserts that exigent circumstances demand immediate removal of straight tag for-hire vehicles from the roadways because the vehicles pose a danger to society. The legislative history suggests that the City Council was concerned that such vehicles are not roadworthy and frequently are not adequately insured. See Selvin Reply Decl. Ex. H. While that may be true, the seizures being challenged here do not ameliorate the City's (perhaps legitimate) concern inasmuch as the intent when seizing the vehicles is to return them to their owner upon payment of the bond or penalty. The vehicle is returned whether it is roadworthy or not and whether it is adequately insured or not. Thus, the seizures are ill-suited to achieve the goal of removing dangerous vehicles from the streets of New York — however laudable that goal.
Finally, the City argues that seizure under § 19-506(h)(1) is a necessary tool to enforce § 19-506(b)(1). There is no question that regulating vehicles that operate for-hire is a legitimate exercise of police power. But summary deprivation of property is not. The City has powerful, legitimate tools at its disposal. It could subject these vehicles to forfeiture; it could suspend the driver's licenses of owners or operators of unlicensed vehicles for hire; it could impose substantial late fees for owners who do not pay the fines that have legitimately been imposed. What it cannot do, consistent with the Fourth Amendment, is summarily seize property to deter future violations from an alleged violator
B. Seizures Pursuant to § 19-506(h)(1) of Vehicles Belonging to Alleged First-Time Violators Violate the Due Process Clause
When property is seized for the purpose of "assert[ing] ownership and control over the property," and not just to preserve evidence of wrongdoing, the seizure "implicates two `explicit textual source[s] of constitutional protection'": the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable warrantless seizures and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. United States v. James Daniel Good Real Prop., 510 U.S. 43, 50, 52, 114 S.Ct. 492, 126 L.Ed.2d 490 (1993) (quoting Soldal, 506 U.S. at 70, 113 S.Ct. 538); see also Krimstock, 306 F.3d at 49-53. Here, the City seizes vehicles in order to assert control over them as a means of ensuring payment of an as-yet-unimposed penalty. The City argues that the TLC provides adequate process because it provides "prompt" hearings to adjudicate the violations (the hearing occurs within fourteen days of the seizure), and that the option to post a bond to secure the vehicles' release ameliorates any temporary burden imposed on the vehicle owners.
The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides: "No state shall ... deprive any person of ... property without due process of law." The "general rule" derived from the Due Process Clause is "that individuals must receive notice and opportunity to be heard before the Government deprives them of property." James Daniel Good Real Prop., 510 U.S. at 48, 114 S.Ct. 492. Of course, it does not violate the Due Process Clause to immediately seize property when an exception to the Fourth Amendment's warrant requirement applies. Compare Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U.S. 663, 676-80, 94 S.Ct. 2080, 40 L.Ed.2d 452 (1974) (ex parte seizure did not offend due process; "seizure for purposes of forfeiture is one of those `extraordinary situations' that justify postponing notice and opportunity for a hearing'" until
Plaintiffs also challenge the adequacy of the post-seizure process. "Due process does not, in all cases, require a hearing before the state interferes with a protected interest, so long as `some form of hearing is [provided] before an individual is finally deprived of [the] property interest." Nnebe v. Daus, 644 F.3d 147, 158 (2d Cir.2011) (quoting Brody v. Village of Port Chester, 434 F.3d 121, 134 (2d Cir.2005)). "[D]ue process is flexible and calls for such procedural protections as the particular situation demands." Id. (citation omitted). In deciding "whether the demands of the Due Process Clause are satisfied where the government seeks to maintain possession of property before a final judgment is rendered," courts consider the three factors set forth in Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 96 S.Ct. 893, 47 L.Ed.2d 18 (1976). Krimstock, 306 F.3d at 60. Those factors are "(1) the private interest affected; (2) the risk of erroneous deprivation through the procedures used and the value of other safeguards; and (3) the government's interest," including administrative burden that additional procedural requirements would impose. Id.
The private interest affected here — possession of the vehicle — is significant. The Second Circuit has recognized the importance of an individual's interest in his or her motor vehicle, inasmuch as they are used "as a mode of transportation and, for some, the means to earn a livelihood." Id. at 61. The fact that the deprivation is of finite duration (or "expedited" as the City puts it) is of minimal importance. "[A] temporary, nonfinal deprivation of property is nonetheless a `deprivation' in the terms of the Fourteenth Amendment." Fuentes v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67, 85, 92 S.Ct. 1983, 32 L.Ed.2d 556 (1972). The Due Process Clause "draws no bright lines around three-day, 10-day or 50-day deprivations of property." Id. at 86, 92 S.Ct. 1983. The length and severity of a deprivation is a factor to weigh in determining the appropriate form of hearing, but it does not dispose of the right to a meaningful opportunity to be heard. Id.; cf. Mitchell v. W.T. Grant Co., 416 U.S. 600, 94 S.Ct. 1895, 40 L.Ed.2d 406 (1974) (state statute did not violate due process when writ was granted by a judge ex parte upon an affirmation setting forth specific grounds for relief, and debtor was entitled to an immediate hearing where writ would be dissolved if the creditor could not provide proof of its claim). Nor does the option to post a bond to secure the vehicle's release cure any constitutional imposition on the private interests affected. "When officials ... seize one piece of property from a person's possession and then agree to return it if he surrenders another, they deprive him of property whether or not he has the funds, the
Turning to the next Mathews factor, the Court has concerns about the risk of erroneous deprivations. The City argues that the TLC officer's affirmation setting forth the basis for his or her probable cause determination minimizes the risk of an erroneous deprivation at the time of seizure and, by extension, pending adjudication by the TLC. Def. Mem. at 16-17. But even if that probable cause determination were enough to justify the initial seizure (which it is not), the Krimstock court expressly rejected a similar argument. There, the City argued that continued retention of a forfeitable vehicle that had been seized when its operator was arrested for drunk driving, pending a criminal proceeding, was justified by the probable cause determination that was made when the vehicle's operator was arrested. Krimstock, 306 F.3d at 52. The court rejected that argument because "a warrantless arrest by itself does not constitute an adequate, neutral `procedure' for testing the City's justification for continued ... detention of a vehicle." Id. at 53. Although the timing of the hearing for a § 19-506(b)(1) violation is substantially more prompt than the forfeiture proceedings considered in Krimstock, the seizing officer's probable cause determination does no more to mitigate the risk of erroneous deprivations.
The final Mathews factor is the government's interest.
In sum, the City has cited no case, and the Court has found none, in which a federal court has ever upheld the warrantless seizure of private property in order to ensure payment of a fine, prior to any adjudication that the property owner committed any offense or that a fine is due. Whatever the due process clause may
C. Section 1983 Claims Against the City and Individual Defendants
The City moved to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim for municipal liability under Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S.Ct. 2018, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). For the reasons stated above, Plaintiffs have not only alleged that an official, codified municipal policy of New York City caused Plaintiffs' injuries, but there is no question of fact that the policy and practices of implementing the policy violated (at least some of) the Plaintiffs' rights guaranteed by the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Accordingly, the City is liable under Monell for whatever damages Plaintiffs who were first time violators can prove. See Lore v. City of Syracuse, 670 F.3d 127, 168 (2d Cir.2012).
The City also moved to dismiss the claims against the individual defendants because they are entitled to either qualified or absolute immunity. "[T]o establish personal liability in a § 1983 action, it is enough to show that the official, acting under color of state law, caused the deprivation of a federal right," whereas an official-capacity action is, "in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the" City. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985). To prevail in an official-capacity action, the plaintiff must show that the government entity's "policy or custom ... played a part in the violation of federal law." Id. "When it comes to defenses to liability, an official in a personal-capacity action may, depending on his position, be able to assert personal immunity defenses;" in "an official-capacity action, these defenses are unavailable." Id. at 166-67, 105 S.Ct. 3099. Because the Amended Complaint states a claim against the City under Monell, it also states a claim against the individual defendants in their official capacities. See id.; Rodriguez v. Winski, 973 F.Supp.2d 411, 425-26 (S.D.N.Y.2013).
In order to state a claim for personal liability under § 1983, however, the complaint must allege facts that establish the defendants' individual actions were proximate causes of the alleged constitutional deprivations. See Raspardo v. Carlone, 770 F.3d 97, 116 (2d Cir.2014); Grullon v. City of New Haven, 720 F.3d 133, 138 (2d Cir.2013) ("It is well settled that, in order to establish a defendant's individual liability in a suit brought under § 1983, a plaintiff must show, inter alia, the defendant's personal involvement in the alleged constitutional deprivation."). "Personal involvement, within the meaning of this concept, includes not only direct participation in the alleged violation but also gross negligence in the supervision of subordinates who committed the wrongful acts and failure to take action upon receiving information that constitutional violations are occurring." Patterson v. Cnty. of Oneida, N.Y., 375 F.3d 206, 229 (2d Cir.2004). Thus, an individual-capacity defendant is entitled to qualified immunity (and dismissal of claims against him in his individual capacity) unless the complaint pleads facts that plausibly allege his personal involvement in the constitutional violation and that his involvement was a proximate cause of the plaintiff's injury. See Grullon, 720 F.3d at 138. Plaintiffs conceded at oral argument that they have alleged no facts that amount to personal involvement in the alleged constitutional violations beyond the individual defendants' enforcement of the law as it was passed by City
D. The Amended Complaint States a Claim for Punitive Damages Against the Individual Defendants
The City moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages because punitive damages are not authorized under § 1983 in claims against the City. Def. Mem. at 25. "Although a municipality itself is immune from a claim for punitive damages, [cit.], that immunity does not extend to a municipal official sued in his official capacity." New Windsor Volunteer Ambulance Corps, Inc. v. Meyers, 442 F.3d 101, 122 (2d Cir.2006) (citing Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 55-56, 103 S.Ct. 1625, 75 L.Ed.2d 632 (1983); City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 258-68, 101 S.Ct. 2748, 69 L.Ed.2d 616 (1981)); see also DiSorbo v. Hoy, 343 F.3d 172, 182 (2d Cir.2003) (noting that the City's liability "is limited to ... compensatory damages, as punitive damages may not be awarded against a municipality under Monell"). As a result, the motion to dismiss the punitive damages claim is GRANTED as to the City but DENIED with respect to the individual defendants in their official capacities.
Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment as to liability to first time violators, Docket Entry 30, is GRANTED. Defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment, Docket Entry 25, is GRANTED with respect to the claims against the individual defendants in their individual capacity, and the claim for punitive damages against the City. Count Five is DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c). The motion is DENIED in all other respects.
At oral argument, Plaintiffs stated that they were seeking injunctive relief, but that request was not included in their moving papers. The Amended Complaint also sought class certification. Given that the Court has determined that the City's policy of summarily seizing vehicles of alleged first-time violators violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, the parties are ORDERED to submit a joint letter no later than October 9, 2015, indicating whether Plaintiffs intend to pursue injunctive relief and, if so, proposing a schedule for briefing their request. The letter should also address whether Plaintiffs still wish to pursue class certification, and, if so, whether they require class discovery before briefing that request.
Section 19-506(e)(1) provides that "[i]n addition to or as an alternative to the [criminal] penalties provided" in § 19506(b)(1), "any person who shall violate [§ 19-506(b)(1)] shall, for the first violation, be liable for a civil penalty of one thousand five hundred dollars, and for the second violation committed within a thirty six month period, for a civil penalty of two thousand dollars."
A vehicle owned by Plaintiff John Peters Professional Limousines, Inc., was seized on December 5, 2013, after the driver offered documentation that the trip was outside of TLC's jurisdiction. Id. ¶¶ 37-38. John Peters posted a cash bond to secure the release of the vehicle and was found not guilty. Id. ¶ 39. In its response to Plaintiffs' motion, the City submitted evidence indicating that John Peters had, however, pleaded guilty to violating § 19-506 on three occasions prior to the December 5 seizure. Selvin Reply Decl. ¶ 9; Dkt. 44. Plaintiffs did not dispute this evidence.
Plaintiff Michael Harrell's vehicle was seized on December 18, 2013, while it was driven by a friend. Pl. 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 20-21. Harrell was unable to appear at the hearing and a default judgment was entered against him; his friend, the driver, pleaded guilty. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Harrell moved to vacate the default judgment. By the time his motion was granted and he was found not guilty, the TLC had sold his vehicle. Id. ¶¶ 24-26.
Plaintiff Pedro Camacho's vehicle was seized at JFK Airport on January 9, 2014, when the TLC inspector disbelieved his story that his passenger was his niece. Id. ¶ 31, 33-34. Camacho did not post a bond, and the TLC withdrew the violation at his scheduled hearing. Id. ¶¶ 35-36.
Plaintiff Susan Calvo's vehicle was seized at JFK Airport on June 4, 2014. Id. ¶ 27. She posted the $2000 bond to secure the release of her vehicle, but was told that no charges were pending against her when she appeared at her scheduled hearing, apparently because of a glitch in TLC's recordkeeping system. Id. ¶¶ 28-30. In its response to Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment, the City submitted evidence indicating that Calvo had either pleaded guilty or been found guilty of violating § 19-506(b)(1) three times before the June 4 seizure. Selvin Reply Decl. ¶ 8. Plaintiffs did not dispute this evidence.